Tuesday, June 30, 2009

And The Beat Goes On

I am becoming more and more convinced, that children are the most resilient beings on earth.  In some ways, they are still so close to being able to remember what came before being born into this uncertain world and yet, not close enough to adulthood to know that sometimes life can really take you down.  And even when the realities of adulthood seep into the mostly smoother edges of childhood, children somehow learn to keep on dancing.  The rhythm of their lives may change, but their perfect, little feet keep on pitter-patting away, teaching those of us who are well-past those years to keep on listening for the beat.  A beat that sounds an awful lot like that of the heart.  The beat of love.
And friendship and solidarity...but, mostly love.
This past weekend, we had the opportunity to do a lot of celebrating.  We celebrated being able to watch my youngest Angel Niece shake her booty in her dance recital.  Yes, she is the second one from the left with the shimmy in her hips!
She bounced.  She wiggled.  She levitated.
And she listened to the beat of her own drum.
The next day, we went to watch my oldest Angel Niece in her dance recital.  It was pure joy to watch her as she took center stage and then hip-hopped her way across my heart.
I cannot even begin to describe the utter joy, sadness(that my Angel Niece's daddy could only watch from above), and pure love that I felt while sitting with Mark and our own Angel Daughters as we cheered on these beautiful little girls.
 After the recitals, we got to present these little Angels with flowers.  We got to put our arms around them and hug them like there is no tomorrow.  And we got to experience the essence of my brother through these incredible little girls that he so sadly, had to leave behind.
Angel Daughter Number One, now a woman, yet not so grown up that she forgets what it is like to be a child, swung Angel Niece up into the air.  For a moment, I was reminded of how my brother used to do this to my own children when he saw them and I smiled.  Because somehow, no matter what, the rhythm of the lives of those we have lost still beat loudly in the hearts of those that they have loved and who have loved them.
On Sunday, my oldest Angel blew out the candles on her cake for the twenty-second time.  There is no denying that she is a woman now, but to me, she will always be that curly-haired little girl who danced, sang and performed her way into the hearts of everyone she met.  There is something so incredibly special about her.  So lovely and self-assured.  If I could describe the essence of how she comes across, Audrey Hepburn would be the closest that I could come.
Happy Birthday, my dear daughter.

As my own birthday quickly approaches, I feel a sense of introspection and self-examination that always comes with this time of year.  I am listening very hard, for the music of my own heart.  I would really like to remember what it sounds like.

Friday, June 26, 2009

What We Learn From Failure

I fail.  I misstep. I falter.  I bungle.  I flop.  Sometimes I even just downright screw up.  And it kills me inside when I do.  I am a huge advocate of personal responsibility and therefore, tend to hold myself up to a fairly high standard.  So when I fail, the pain settles deep in the pit of my stomach right below my ribcage where it hides, insidiously, lurking as a reminder that I cannot always bring success into what I believe.  Sometimes, I do fail.

The other day my father and I were talking about failure.  He reminded me that it is not the successes which we learn from in life, but the failures.  These words, coming from a man who has experienced many bouts of failure in his own life only to keep trying and trying and trying again, ring loudly as an ultimate truth.  My father never gives up.  He just brushes himself off, and tries things in a different way, filing his mistakes while moving forward.  In truth, for someone who has failed in about a hundred thousand different ways, my father is a success.  And that is part of the reason that I believe him when he says that we learn only from failure.  Another huge part of the reason that I know what he says is true, is because the very small circle of people who surround me, allow me the space that I need in order to learn from my failures.  They do not turn their backs on me.  They do not try to cause me greater pain.  They love me in spite of my failures.  My husband, a man of great integrity and humility, is my greatest supporter and my closest ally.  He is part of the reason that I can allow myself the room to fail, while searching for the successes.  He allows me to feel safe.

Although I do fail, flounder and flop, I try not to give myself too much time to dwell in the negative aspects of failure.  There is very little value in self-flagellation.  The only true merit in failure comes from trying to understand what might have gone wrong and trying your best to repair it.  Therein lies the possibility of success.  To achieve a favorable outcome, one must accept that there will be failures, but with those failures come the valuable lessons.

May you always find room, in life, for both your successes and your failures.  May you always find the lessons in both.  And may you surround yourself with people who will allow you to stumble, but who will then help you back up when you fall.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

What We Bring

Mark and I each brought many things into our marriage, almost twenty-five years ago.  It's like that, you know.  Each person brings with them their own set of personality characteristics, various amounts of baggage, and enough quirks to last a lifetime.  There is then a period of sorting, accepting and knowing which of those things are negotiable, compromiseable, and absolute must-haves.  For my dear husband, the absolute must-haves included various components of testosterone-driven sporting equipment including, but not limited to, hockey skates, hockey sticks, running shoes, weight-lifting paraphernalia, and fairly recently, mountain-biking equipment.  This man, my man, has always been what is known as, a jock.  I, coming out of a very non-athletic family, did not always understand my husbands absolute need for all of this physical activity.  Being under five feet tall was not conducive to being chosen for teams in gym class(a barbaric practice, if you ask me), and so I learned to dislike physical activities that had anything to do with a ball, a score, and profuse amounts of sweat.

So, what did I bring into our marriage that was non-negotiable?  My absolute need to rescue and be surrounded by anything furry, feathery or that has two pleading, soulful eyes.  In other words, anything that breathes and needs a home.  In college, my sweet husband understood this when he became my accomplice in rescuing my three childhood cats that had all but been abandoned by my mother when she began spending nights at her then boyfriend's apartment.  I knew that I had to get them out of that situation and Mark, being my dear Knight in shining armor, understood that I would be bringing them into our marriage.  Along with the cat that we adopted and the dog that we found wandering the streets of Syracuse, New York, where we both attended college.  

As the years went by, and we began our family, the two things which remained constant were Mark's love of anything athletic, and my love for anything breathing.  Yes, there have been times when each one of us has balked at the idea of the other one's absolutes, but for the most part, we have reached a level of understanding.  I understand how much participating in sports means to my sweet husband, and he understands what surrounding myself with animals(and children) means to me.  And in the process, each one of our hearts has stretched to include the things that are important and necessary for the other.  Marriage, when done properly, is like that.
Our four Angels carry an interesting, genetic blend of their dad's need to be active, and my need to nurture.  I love seeing those qualities melded together to create some wonderful, little people.
And so, Rex(the little white and black kitty) recently entered our family via Angel Daughter Number Two.  She found him shivering and alone in the grass by her apartment building.  When she called me to ask if she could keep him and I balked a tiny bit, she reminded me that it was my fault that she felt the need to rescue animals.
Micah, our Rottweiler, Pit-Bull, Doberman-Pincer, drug-lord's dream puppy, took an immediate liking to Rex.  It quickly became love.
They were our latest adoptees until I received a phone call from Angel Daughter Number One, last week, telling me about the Feral momma kitty who had just given birth to six kittens in her backyard.  It took her a couple of weeks to catch all seven kittens and their momma, but when she did, she fell into deep love with the mother.  She was able to find a home for two of the babies and then a foster home for the four others.
Momma(that is the name that AD1 gave her) is a sweet girl who is now recovering from her ordeal.  When AD1 found her, she was basically emaciated but she still somehow summoned up the energy to nurse her babies.  She also carried them back and forth to safety anytime she felt threatened.  There are quite a few human mothers who could learn some lessons about mothering and dedication from this momma kitty.
So on this day that is dedicated to fathers, think about adopting an animal.  If you have any room in your home and in your heart, rescue, rescue, rescue.

Please...Your heart will stretch in ways that you cannot even imagine.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Misty Southern California Days

On an unusually misty, overcast, rainy day in Southern California, Angel Daughter Number Four and I hopped in the car to visit Angel Daughter Number Two(in the middle) at her new college.  Angel Daughter Number One(on the left) had an audition to attend later on that day, and so she met us up there for a while.  Angel Daughter Number Three was busy with school things and therefore could not join us, but it isn't unusual for us to have to accept that our schedules do not always coincide these days.  Makes me a bit sad, but life sometimes does get in the way.

In September 2008, Angel Daughter Number Two began what we thought would be her college journey for the next few years.  We moved her into an apartment, registered her for classes, cried when she left(well, at least I did) and then watched as she tested her wings.  She struggled and floundered and couldn't quite find a place for herself.  The match was somehow wrong.  It turned out to be only a "test flight" as a few months later, she was back in the nest preening her feathers and spending lots of time by my side.  I have always taught my girls that no decision must ever be final.  I am not of the school that demands that whatever one begins, they must always finish.  I am a veracious reader, but if I start reading a book and it does not catch my interest, I will put it down without any regrets.  If my girls began a sport or a club or any other type of activity and they decided that they did not like it, they were allowed to quit.  In my view, there is no other way to find out if something is the right fit until you give it a try.  Maybe if we allowed ourselves more space in which to try things out, we would be more open to new experiences.  Could some of the hesitancy about trying new things stem from the fear of having to finish something that we absolutely hate?  Angel Daughter Number Two's decision to leave college while trying to decide what her next move would be was definitely challenging.  She was worried, a bit lost and a lot confused.  We were concerned.  She wanted to find a place where her focus could be on photography.  We wanted her to find a place where she would be motivated, enthusiastic and inspired.  This is where the wisdom of age came in.  

My father, AD2's pop-pop, decided to do some research into schools that focused on the field of photography.  He is a bit of a photography buff himself, and has always had great Nikon cameras.  We are now a three generation Nikon family, as we all shoot with Nikons.  They are fabulous cameras and the range of ability that you have with them is infinite.  AD2 began shooting with hers in high school at which time she realized that she really enjoyed photography.  She has a natural ability and the gift for taking a picture that is much more than just a snapshot.  So, when my father found the school that she is attending now, we decided to let her apply.  This school is considered to be the "Harvard" of photography colleges.  We were very proud of AD2 for getting accepted.  Then we found out the cost of tuition and we cried...A lot.  Then my father convinced us that nobody says "No" to his grandangel.  And then...
Here is AD2 in her kitchen paging through some negatives that she shot for a film project.  The interesting thing is how little this generation knows about film cameras.  To them, having a digital camera means taking as many photos as you want and then checking them to make sure that you like the results.  When AD2 began shooting with film, she was amazed with the results.  Now, she not only enjoys shooting with film, but also loves developing the pictures herself.  I really like the idea that in this "instant gratification" world that we live in, my Angel Daughter is learning to enjoy the process, as much as the product.
Angel Daughter Number Four not only loved AD2's studio apartment, but her kitten, Rex, as well.  AD2 called me on the phone, one day, to tell me that she found a kitten outside of her building.  She took him to the animal shelter to see if anyone would claim him, but when nobody did, she asked me if she could keep him.  
Knowing what a softy I am, she didn't have to ask me twice.
The crazy demon kitty.
After spending some time in AD2's apartment, she took us up to see her school.
I love that my girls still hold hands.  Here they are walking down the hall of the college.
It is situated in such a beautiful setting.  Lush, green and restorative.
We went into the photo lab where AD2 spends much of her time.  The dark room where she processes her photos is right next door.  It is so cool.  I told my daughters that I would like to start going to school there, too!  It was so great to see AD2 feeling so comfortable in her own environment.
Can't imagine why the busy students were giving the funny, little mommy with the camera curious looks.  After all, it is a photo lab.  Get it, photo lab...Ha, ha, ha.  Tee-hee hee...
This university is known world-wide for educating amazing car designers and engineers.  Walking around the halls is like visiting a museum.  So much to see, so much to take in.  The creative energy there is contagious!
What an incredible place to study.
Saying good-bye to Angel Daughter Number Two left me feeling both content and nostalgic.  Content because I could sense her happiness at being at a place which makes her feel productive and challenged and at home.  It can take many, many years for most of us to find that kind of serenity.  That feeling of belonging.  That feeling of knowing the fit is a good one.  Nostalgic because, well, she is feeling more comfortable with her own wings now.  With wings come flight, and with flight comes the knowing that home will soon take on a new definition.

The rain cleared up by the time Angel Daughter Number Four and I took to the road again, but there was still a misty overcast obscuring my sight.  As I rubbed my eyes and laughed at something funny that AD4 said to me, I took a side-ways glance in her direction.  She is fifteen.  Yet when glancing at her through the corner of my eye, I could almost visualize AD2 or even AD1 at her young, very in-between age.  In only three and a half short years, I will be viewing her through this very similar, very startling lens.  With independent wings on which to fly mostly solo.  Darn those misty Southern California days, darn them.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Out of the Mouths of Teenagers

Being a full-time mother for nearly twenty-two years has taken my life through a constant maze of both confidence and apprehension.  Some days I feel as if I am almost getting this job right, and then the next day will be wrought with some unexpected hormonal crisis(theirs or sometimes mine, if I am to be honest) which will set me off-balance for a short while.  Like no other job in the world, motherhood will humble you down to the soles of your feet or lift you up higher than the ever-present mommy clip that you use to keep your hair from getting in your eyes.  It's just never certain when the highs or lows will occur, or what might send your heart reeling with absolute emotion.

A few days ago, my littlest Angel Daughter called me on the phone when she was at home and I was still at our beach house.  We talked and laughed in only the way that mothers and daughters can, and then she told me that she had written another poem.  This young girl, with the dancing spirit, can also write the most heartfelt and honest poems that I have ever encountered from someone so young.  At fifteen, a very difficult age for most, Angel Daughter Number Four expresses herself through both movement and word.  My father, her pop-pop, used to call her "the great observer" because as the youngest of four daughters, she would sit quietly absorbing everything that was going on around her.  She observed for quite some time and then she began using what she took in to become an outgoing and unique spirit.  In the past several years, I have watched this little girl grow into an amazing young lady who is wise beyond her fifteen years.  Yet, she is still a very typical fifteen year old who must assert her upcoming independence by letting her dad and I know that she is growing up.

So, as AD4 told me about her poem, she set it up by recalling a memory that had popped into her mind.  When our girls were younger and they were preparing, one after the other, to become a Bat Mitzvah, each one had to go through years of study in order to reach this joyous milestone.  As a result, we spent a lot of time in synagogue both on holidays and for Friday night Sabbath services.  It was a very cozy time in our lives when the girls were still young and family took precedence over all else.  For me, those years were more about the feelings that being a close family unit evoked, and not so much about the words.  And yet, I am sometimes awed by the descriptions that my Angel Daughters can attach to a certain memory.  AD4 asked me if I recalled how she would often lean up against my body during temple services.  She then told me that as she would rest up against my body, she would listen to my voice as it reverberated throughout my body and into hers.  Like in many religious services, the leader(in our case the rabbi or the cantor) prays or sings while the congregation participates by also praying or singing out loud.  AD4 described to me how my praying voice was something that she enjoyed listening to because it was very different from my "regular" voice.  As she described her experience to me, I got chills.  So many thoughts raced through my heart and my mind.  I wondered if the voice that she had leaned up against me to hear in synagogue to pray, was somehow the voice that she had remembered from a much earlier time.  A time when she was snugly ensconced so safely within my womb.  Could every word have sounded like a prayer to her?
As she read her poem to me, it was like a prayer reverberating throughout her body and into mine.  It wasn't so much the words that I heard(although they were beautiful), but the voice that she used when she spoke them to me.

Three of my youngest Angels are well into their teen years now.  My oldest is going to be twenty-two in about three weeks.  As they continue to grow up into the beautiful young women that they will be, I hope to hear more of their feelings put into words.  I understand that I have several more uncertain years as my girls continue to strive for independence fostered out of interdependence.  But as I continue on my journey through the maze of motherhood, I will try to remember that sometimes words actually sound like prayers when they are coming from a place that is rooted and deep and strange, but familiar.  Oh how familiar.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Little Miss Fierce, Part 2

Angel Daughter Number Four was born to the music of Beauty and The Beast.  It wasn't planned, it was more like kismet and a sign of things to come.  There I was, laying on the operating table during my C-section and as the doctor lifted my little angel baby into the air, someone in the room commented about the song that was playing.  The music wafted melodiously through the air and into my baby girl's ears.  I like to think that it was at that exact moment when my littlest Angel realized her love of music. 

Last month, I wrote about AD4's alter-ego, Little Miss Fierce.  My mentor and friend, author Peggy Payne wrote about AD4 on her blog post titled Raising Children Who Shine.  Peggy is a New York Times Notable author.  One of her books, Sister India(available on amazon), is one of my all-time favorite novels.  She is also a writing consultant and a very good one, at that.(If you have any writing needs, she is offering her services on sale, for a limited time.)  But one of the neatest things about Peggy is that she embraces boldness as an important and admirable quality.  Her blog, Peggy Payne's Boldness Blog, revolves around ideas of boldness.  Her writings constantly challenge me to live my own life in a bolder, more colorful way.  Peggy really enjoyed the pictures of Little Miss Fierce that I posted after her dance competition and so I promised to post the video as soon as I was able to.  My dad, AD4's Pop-pop, posted the video up on UTube.  He likes to say that AD4 got her dancing skills as a result of his dancing days with the Radio City Rockettes.  I'm not exactly sure how he managed that one, but he is one of those people who could get you to believe just about anything.  He is a very proud grandpa who takes an involved interest in all of his granddaughters.  They are lucky girls.

If you would like to watch Angel Daughter Number Four tear up the dance floor, then just take a look at the video below.  My dad labeled the video and put a prompt on it so that AD4(Mikayla) would be easier to find.  She is the smallest one.  Front and center.  It might be a bit difficult to follow her all the way through, but somehow I know you will get the idea.  After the dance, there is a short clip of the award presentation.  Just look for the littlest girl who is bouncing off the floor in true Tigger fashion.

Angel Daughter Number Four is fifteen years old now, but she only began dancing, seriously, about two years ago.  Kismet, indeed.
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